Review: Player Manager

Player Manager

ST Format Review

My Review

For this review I’m running Steem with a 1MB STE, running TOS 1.62 – I’m not on my usual PC and for some reason the version of Steem on this one won’t let me have a maximised window without going full screen, so screenshot sizes may vary. I’ve picked Pompey Pirates 25. Not one of their more exciting menus, the music is decent enough but the big show-off factor comes from the rapid palette-switching being used to create the bars.

It seems the copy protection didn’t impress the crackers much, or maybe they were just showing off.

Player Manager was probably the game I played more than any other as a kid, to the enormous irritation of my parents (though everything irritated them and they rather regretted my existence so that’s not necessarily a bad thing). I was, like most boys of my age, football mad, and the combination of Kick-Off’s match engine (I’d never played Kick-Off) and a decent management engine made for a genuinely thrilling game. This review will have some bias, and I’m ok with that.

Controls in the match are as per standard Kick-Off, with a joystick (good thing I brought my ST joystick with me) while the management side is controlled with fairly standard mouse controls.

We have the traditional player generation at the start of the game, which was found in Championship Manager too. I had similar issues when I built a small management game, there was no fast way to generate all that player data (though I was working in STOS Basic – I imagine machine code or C would get you something faster). This would traditionally take 10-20 minutes, which is where I’m glad my emulator features a fast forward.

Now we come to deciding the name of our club, and our player. I can play in position or play the whole team in a more traditional Kick Off style. As a kid I always went with the former, so that’s what I’ll do today.

This was of course before the Premier League, so we have old-fashioned Division 1, 2, 3 and 4 in truncated form, 10 teams in each of the top two divisions and 12 in the bottom two. I’m not sure whether the truncation is due to memory or fitting everything on screen but weirdly I don’t remember having an issue with it as a kid. We start in division 3. I’ll be playing Birmingham City, Bristol (it’s not clear whether it’s City or Rovers), Cardiff, Fulham, Huddersfield, Preston, Reading, Wigan, Shrewsbury, Rotherham and Northampton. I have no idea which teams were good in 1990, though it’s quite possible the randomly-generated players don’t reflect that anyway.

So this is the home screen. It doesn’t look like much but it’s where the magic happens.

This is my squad. It looks like 3 players are out of contract. Now the Bosman ruling wasn’t a thing back then, but I can’t remember quite what happened when players were out of contract. My gut feeling is there was a tribunal to determine the transfer fee.

Stats aren’t quite Championship Manager person. We have a forward who is very very quick (tops out at 200) with magnificent passing stats and decent shooting. He’s going to be useful – he’s also out of contract. I better sort it.

I’ll offer a 3 year contract. That allows me to get up to division 2 and then chuck him for someone better. My best (and youngest) keeper is also out of contract, while the defender out of contract isn’t amazing. Now the attributes that matter are the skills and pace. I’ve evaluated my players.

– Andrews: the best of our keepers, young, good enough to do a job for a few seasons.
– Ward: A reasonable backup, could probably be a reasonable midfielder if required.
– Morgan: too slow despite decent tackling
– O Davis: Quick and capable, young. We’ll keep this one.
– Cole: Mediocre pace and tackling (130s for both)
– Rogers: Quick but lacking tackling skill. Not obvious where to retrain him.
– Langley: Good tackler but possibly too slow.
– Bailey: Quick enough, decent tackler but would be a better midfielder.
– D Davis: Quick but his tackling is shite
– Saunders: Quick but his passing is ok at best.
– Stevenson: Fast but passing is decent.
– Hari Seldon: The player manager. A magnificent beast of a man.
– Morris: Lacking pace and a poor passer. One to sell.
– Osborne: Fantastic passer, very good shooter, not the quickest but useful to have around.
– Fisher: Quick enough, average passer and shooter.
– Jones: Very slow, decent shooter, mediocre passer.
– Watson: Super-fast with fantastic passing and good shooting. Would be an amazing midfielder.
– Newman: Quick enough, a strong shooter with good passing skills.

My starting 11 is likely to be [Andrews], [O Davis, Langley, Bailey, Cole], [Stevenson, Seldon, Osborne], [Fisher, Watson, Newman]. I could do with another decent player in each area, probably the defence is the most urgent.

It seems the coaching staff agree with the need to improve defence.

Let’s go look for some players.

No idea what his skills are like, but the guy’s got pace. Should be worth a look. I click buy and it turns out that you get an x/10 ability rating here. My guy is 0 so I’m going to skip and look for a better option. Annoyingly you can only look at 2 players in this way per week, so I’ll go to match day instead. I’ll be playing Birmingham.

We should have half a chance of beating them.

I pick my squad and go to the pre-match screen. Time to go.

Time to play my first match.

A magnificent headed goal gets me a 1-0 win.

And we’re 3rd in the league. A decent start.

Time to try to buy a player.

The next match goes less well with Rotherham scoring an early goal, but thankfully I manage to get a late equaliser.

Oops, maybe I spent too much money. Oh well.

So clearly I can’t go and run a whole season, you’ll all get bored shitless if I describe it and the review would take an absolute age. However, I have enough that I can judge the game, based on now and back in 1990. The game is fucking magnificent. It’s got the Kick Off magic, married to a very decent management engine, with a tactics editor, a simple transfer market, etc. Clearly it’s a little cut-down from real football and the names are fake, but the truth is the simplifications make it more fun, quicker, vs the awfulness of the modern Football Manager games where it feels like work, but your efforts have almost no effect on anything that actually happens.

There isn’t a game like this. By the time of the sequel (which I think came out on the Amiga but not the ST) Dino Dini had gone, so what we got was an anaemic management game with no playing element. Now if someone could graft Dino Dini’s Goal to a management game like this, I’d be in heaven.


See also: Kick Off, Kick Off 2

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